On one hand, the ousting of Democratic turncoat Arlen Specter can be viewed as a boon for tea party politics. On the other hand, it could make his seat harder for Republicans to win back in November.
Republican candidate Pat Toomey polled 50%-38% against Specter one week before the Democratic primary. Toomey polled 42%-40% against primary winner Joe Sestak. No polls have been conducted since the election to see how many of those Specter supporters will now turn to Sestak since Sestak won the primary, but even if it’s a small number, Toomey could be in trouble.
The election of Democrat Mark Critz in the Pennsylvania special election to fill the seat previously held by deceased Rep. John Murtha (D) only complicates this scenario. Critz beat Republican Tim Burns by a whopping 8 points, and if the rest of the state follows along, the GOP could be in for an uphill Senate battle.
But there’s another side to the coin. Specter was a Washington politician if there ever was one, and Democrats are the party in power. Toomey cut his teeth on an anti-Washington, anti-tax agenda as a 4-year president of the Club for Growth, and is designing his campaign against the Democratic Congress’ tax-and-spend agenda.
This means that Toomey is far more different from Sestak than he was from Specter. Specter, for all of his foibles, was perceived as farther to the right than Sestak and might have enjoyed some of Pennsylvania’s center-right support. That could go to Toomey, now, as independents identify more strongly with Toomey’s conservative alternative.
That’s the line Toomey’s camp is using after the Specter defeat.
“Specter lost mainly because the left wing of the Demnocratic party didn’t see him as viable,” said Tim Kelly, a spokesman for Toomey’s campaign. “In Sestak they nominated a poster child for the left wing of the Democratic party.”
Kelly pointed out that Sestak has voted almost 100% of the time with Nancy Pelosi, including the hot button issues of bailouts, health care, and tax increases.
“He goes further than even most Democrats in Congress,” said Kelly. “The Democratic primary voters really got what they wanted when they went for Joe Sestak instead of Arlen Specter.”
Now all that remains to be seen is whether voters will go for Sestak instead of Toomey. But whoever, wins, Specter is out, and it’s no secret why.
“Specter, 80 years old and having spent five terms in the Senate, was a living and breathing embodiment of the traits that voters across the country seem fed up with these days,” wrote Chris Cillezza of the Washington Post, shortly after Sestak’s victory.